February 27, 2015


There was nothing relaxing about the award-winning Iranian film we watched last Friday. The opening scene showed a distressed couple squabbling before a divorce lawyer, and the film got increasingly intense, focusing on the complex relationships in an Iranian family. The cinematography was simple and stark, adding to the abrupt and honest feel of the film. About 30 minutes in, we were uptight and stressed. But we endured, because we knew that after another hour and a half, we'd have a resolution to the mysteries of the movie, and go to bed pleased.

Ninety minutes later, Persian script that looked a lot like credits started scrolling up the screen. 

Certainly this wasn't the end of the film, we thought. It was uncomfortably unfinished—

Which parent did the daughter choose to live with?
Did they remain in Iran or emigrate? 

What happened to the maid and her husband?
Did their creditors come for them?

Stunned, we watched until the credits finished playing, and a few logos flashed on the screen. It was true; the movie was over. A film's ending has never surprised me so much. In fact, we felt a bit abandoned: the movie raised more questions than it answered!

A few days later, I was still commenting to my husband:
That movie didn't tell us who stole the money from their apartment.

We ask only one thing of our entertainment: that it give us resolution. The story line can be complicated, but in the end, we demand completed thoughts, tied-together stories. They don't have to marry each other, they don't even have to survive, but we want to know what happens to them. And we do want a reasonably happy ending at least 70% of the time, thank-you-very-much. Hollywood movies feed what our human hearts idolize: perfect knowledge (and as often as possible, happy endings). 

We lie down on the sofa for two hours in the midst of our own complicated, unresolved life stories and we beg our media to give us an escape from real life, where the answers don't come in 120 minutes or less. And we have miniscule attention spans, so giving us a hint as to the ending at the 60-minute mark would be nice, too.

A Separation was intentionally truer to life than our usual Hollywood fare. We all have, and are, unfinished stories. We've all had relationships that seemed warm and then changed, with no explanation. Most of us remember a family that moved suddenly and made no contact again. Childhood friends come to mind once in a while, and we wonder what they're doing now. Singles wonder, will I ever marry, and if so, when? Marrieds wonder, can we have children, and when? Or worse, divorces and deaths leave questions in our minds

things that feel unfinished

because we don't understand them. Our hearts and minds are full of unfinished moments, like the nearly-empty jar of marmalade that taunts me from the fridge, or the lightweight conditioner bottle in the shower stall. I look at them and want to finish, clean, and recycle them—I want to have resolution.

Is it so wrong that we want resolution? Weren't we made for reconciliation, not for difficult relationships? Weren't we created with curious minds that want to know?  

Perhaps there's nothing wrong wishing to know, but demanding to know things that aren't revealed to us...that is wrong.

Man has never had a world where he knew all, even in the perfect Garden. We've only ever known what the Creator has revealed in His Word and His world. Man has always been expected to trust God with that which he cannot or must not know.

But in eternity future, we'll know...or will we? We often talk about chatting with Abraham, asking God our questions, or finally understanding why we went through some fiery trial. Songs like the famous Thank You have portrayed Heaven as a place where we'll find people we witnessed to or be thanked by our sponsor children. Maybe we assume that in Heaven we'll understand everything: those relationships that hurt, those questions that kept us awake, and those tragedies that almost broke us. But I wonder if we will. Because omniscience belongs only and forever to Him.

Yes, eternity vows to make clear so many things that were dim in this life. But as humans, we tend to think of a Heaven that pleases us. When we reach that day, what our eyes will be truly open to is not how great we were (by enduring some trial, or sharing truth with a stranger), but how great He is. Our eyes will be opened to His eternal reality, His omniscience. We will worship He who did indeed work all things together for good. But our focus will be less on those things, and more on the One who did those things. I don't know if we'll be asking Him: why handicaps, God? Why health problems, God? Why famine, God? Or if when we see Him, those questions will flee, and we'll do like most any in recorded history, and fall on our faces....

We'll see that He has indeed meted out justice on the earth, His righteous vengeance at last. When our own works are assessed, we'll tremble in wonder that an omniscient God could pass over us. We'll realize that He is altogether trustworthy after all, in every detail.

And all those

things that feel unfinished

will be finished,
because He finished;
It is finished.


"The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law." 

“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
'Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!'"
—God to Job

"Then Job answered the Lord and said...
"You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know...
 Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.'”
 —Job to God

"It is finished."


"It is finished, It is done
To the world salvation comes
Hallelujah, We're alive!
Hell was silenced when you cried,
'It is finished', 'It is finished'

"...I am contented not to know,
Since Thou dost know the way." 
Then I saw 'a new heaven and a new earth,' for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away... And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.' He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!'
He said to me: 'It is done.
I am the Alpha and the Omega, 
the Beginning and the End. 

February 19, 2015

bring them in

Whether as a single or married woman, I've tried to make a habit of having people into my home regularly for tea, a snack, or a meal. There have been seasons where I've not been able to open my home much (such as when I was working as manager and putting in overtime), seasons of relearning what hospitality looks like (such as in Asia, learning what's culturally appropriate) and my current season, when we can and do have guests in our home frequently. There have been seasons when I've needed the hospitality of others, and seasons where others have needed mine. Hospitality has been a powerful force for good in my life, whether I've been the giver or receiver.

There are many reasons why I value hospitality, but one of the chief is that is that hospitality is so very Chr!stian. Hospitality is not optional for follower of the Son, it is to be part of our practice. The fact that an elder must be hospitable to qualify for eldership shows how important it is to God. There's nothing wrong with restaurants or hotels, but Chr!stian hospitality is much more than the arrangement of forks and flavoursit is the impacting of souls.

Most of the people who have impacted me long-term are people who have allowed me to spend significant time in their homes. In sermons or lectures we find words of truth, but in hospitality we find truth in action. If in the text we find the raw materials of truth, when we are served and loved in a Chr!stian home, we see what to build from those raw materials. Sometimes we might feel that the people of true impact are the ones with the teaching ministries or the authors of many books—and we could all name speakers or authors who have fed us spiritual meat, and their work is vital. But when I think of my life, everyday God-loving people who've shared their homes, food, and lives with me have had at least as much, if not more, impact on me. They put flesh and blood onto truth and show me what it looks like in their conversations and life standards.

The Master had crowds thronging around Him constantly; he taught multitudes on dusty hills and from the bow of a boat to throngs. But still we often find Him focusing His attention on individuals. We remember them, such as: the woman with a debilitating flow of blood, Mary who broke spikenard over His feet, Nicodemus at night, the Samaritan woman at the well, Peter who betrayed him, Martha and her busy body, Zaccheus and his radical turnaround. The Master knew that there's something about one-on-one impact that cannot be replicated en masse. The physical size of our living spaces, the wiggle room in our budgets, the commitments on our schedules...these things limit our in-home hospitality to usually be a ministry to a few individuals at a time. But our Example shows us that this one-on-one ministry is essential.

We know that hospitality (especially to like-minded people, and to strangers) is commanded to us, it's non-optional. There's nothing wrong with taking friends out to eat as an act of hospitality, rather than having them in our homes. This can be a great stop-gap when we are short on time and still want fellowship, and done with intentionality it can be highly effective. But today I want to share ten reasons why I prefer to invite people to eat in rather than out. They're both big and small reasons. Some just personal preferences; take them or leave them.

We invite people in rather than taking them out because....

  1. It's almost always healthier. I get to control how the food is prepared and use reasonable amounts of salt, fat, etc. I'm far less likely to get food poisoning. And if I do find a hair in my soup, at least it's my own.
  2. It's better stewardship of our money and possessions. Here in Europe, eating out is particularly expensive, unless you want a cheap, oily Turkish wrap, so I'm reminded of this all over again. For fifteen euros, my husband and I could eat one greasy pizza out, or feed ourselves and at least two other friends in. Occasionally we choose to spend a bit more money rather than the time it takes to eat in, but in this season we usually eat in with our friends. It is good stewardship of the space God has given to us, too. Rent or mortgage is usually one of everyone's biggest monthly expenses. Hospitality is a way to make that money an investment into eternity, too. Whether or not I have guests, I would want to have a heated, furnished home, and when I share that with guests, it is time and money doubly invested, for us and for them.
  3. It puts me (now us) in a position to control the atmosphere. This is one of my favourite reasons to eat in. Restaurants are at best full of distractions. Who hasn't been interrupted by annoying music, a sleazy TV show playing nearby, an immodest or crass server with more ice water, or someone else's crazy child at a restaurant? In our homes we can virtually eliminate these kinds of distractions and create a peaceful, God-honouring environment conducive to good conversation. Which leads me to my next reason....
  4. It makes my home a teaching platform. My home teaches others about what I value—and hopefully, about what God values. Usually my home is full of words and pictures that are meaningful to me. But other things speak, too, like how my husband and I relate to each other, how neat our home is, the kinds of foods we serve...and so many other things. I remember a friend sitting in my home and telling his friend that "This computer screen is the only screen you will find in this house! Julie doesn't have a TV!" I had to laugh at his gusto, speaking as if my home was a real oddity. But he and his friend were both learning about my values by seeing my house. Obviously, we can teach with words, too, as we have opportunity to guide the conversation and set the tone. Sometimes my husband pulls out the Good Book and we read with our guests, or sometimes we just pursue edifying conversation or prayer together. Hospitality teaches something; make that something worthwhile.

  5. It reminds everyone that eating is a community affair. Eating is something we do together. This might be a minor point, but in a restaurant we (usually) order what we want individually and have our own personal experience. At home, we eat what we are served and share the same eating experience. Homemade meals remind us, in our ultra-customized society, that the universe does not exist simply to please us individually; we are made to contribute to community.
  6. It allows people to get to know the real me. My home puts me in a place of vulnerability, because it is a personal space. Sometimes I'm afraid my home is too grand for the guests I'm inviting. Other times I've felt my home is far too simple, like when I invite someone wealthy to visit. We know our guests may make value judgements after seeing us in our home. But it's a good reality check, to remind me to be my real selfmy sincerity is much more important than my status, or lack thereof.
  7. It encourages me to keep my home clean. I'm trying to be better about cleaning consistently, whether or not guests are coming through. But if it hasn't gotten done, and nothing makes me scramble for the vacuum or the mop like knowing that someone else will be seeing our space. (OK, who are we kidding, I only mop if I must. But the vacuum, that I use quite frequently).
  8. It's an outlet for my creativity. Feeding people in my home is a perfect place to express creativity. I like to keep an arsenal of colourful napkins, placemats and banners on hand. And I admit it, I was the one who had a Reformation Day party on October 31, complete with German food, the Luther movie and Catholic candles (with monks on them) burning. I do like theme parties and coordinating decorations....and, not surprisingly, I'm all about cooking foods from around the world.

  9. It's interesting and it expands my world without even leaving home. Since being married, we've had guests from Syria, India, China, Pakistan, Germany, Ukraine.... Their stories are each unique and teach us about the world. I have a cousin who regularly hosts couchsurfers from around the world. Their children learn to have mature conversation with adults, and "travel" by eating the guests' food and hearing their stories. (You might be interested to check out this hospitality network for people who need a place to stay, or have a place to share).
  10. It encourages others to do the same. Lastly, hospitality is best taught by example. The easiest way to learn it (and I still have so much to learn) is by watching others who do it well and sincerely. I've found that hospitality is a bit contagious, if I invite people over, they often do the same in return; sometimes it just takes one person to get the ball rolling.
What you found above is my rough philosophy of hospitality, and why I want to purposefully invite people into our home. One in every three people is lonely, or so I've been told. What better way to seek out that lonely person (whether they look lonely or not) by inviting someone to eat or drink at home with you? We serve a Father who "puts the lonely in families" and human hospitality pictures His heart that notices individuals and brings them into fellowship and community. 

Again, there's no reason hospitality has to be limited to your home. Last week a lady who lives outside our city treated me to breakfast at a restaurant not far from my home. This was more convenient for me than having to figure out how to get to her home. Her invitation, her interest in me personally, her lack of rush, her generosity in paying the tab: all these things spoke hospitality to me, someone who's been facing some loneliness of her own. Next weekend, we're invited to her home, and I know that that visit will be even more insightful into who she and her family are.

At home we have been discussing what living by faith looks like, and how faith challenges us to stretch ourselves with whom we invite into our home. Sometimes we invite people who are pleasant and mannerly, who bring a hostess gift and good conversation. But other times we're trying to invite that person who follows different dietary laws and prays five times a day. Or someone who makes us a little uncomfortable because of our different worldviews. Or the guy with a sour attitude (who secretly liked that we invited him, I think). Currently I'm working on getting up the courage to invite the neighbour over for tea. (Does it feel weirder that we share a wall? Maybe). Faith serves the people of God, but it doesn't just invite "like minds" to its table. It invites differently-oriented guests with a purpose of influencing more than being influenced. Rosaria Butterfield's story is just one beautiful example of a woman who came to faith because others took a step of faith in offering gracious, patient hospitality.

As I was finishing this post, I got a call from a lady who plans to eat here tonight. We don't know much about her, except that she's from Ghana, she does cleaning jobs, she seems lonely and she's happy to talk to English speakers. A mutual friend told us that she currently lives with the fear that B0ko Haram will soon come wreak chaos near her relatives' homes in Africa. My husband can't go there and stop the onslaught, and I can't go back and change her difficult past. But we're trying something small, believing that love shown over chicken stew in a godly home (whether you're single or married) is so very Chr!stian and makes a difference. So whenever we can, let's bring others in.  It doesn't really matter how elaborate or simple the meal. Our love and homes shout our story: "how great is the love that the Father has lavished upon us!"

"He escorts me to the banquet hall;
it's obvious how much he loves me."
Shulamith (Song of Solmon 2:4 NLT)

"Share with the Lord's people who are in need.
Practice hospitality."


February 13, 2015

i'm coming soon

Warm, late afternoon sun beats into our apartment. It hits the top of the red tulips that stand in a bold, beautiful cluster on the table, flashes on the edge of the butcher knife, bumps over the container of chopped zucchini, and throws blue-grey shadows on the cabinets. For half an hour, the kitchen blazes with glory. 

Today as it hits, I'm chopping vegetablesgorgeous reds, oranges, yellows and greens tumble into a mixture in the pan. Nearby, a bowl of tan, brown and black beans waits to be stirred into my concoction. As I watch light fill the room, falling over the colours and shapes of our dinner, it is a reverent moment for me...

The late afternoon sun is a joy to me, but it is also a warning: it tells me the day is almost over. It means that the hours that I have between my husband's departure for work and his return have almost elapsed, and I should have something to show for myself for this day. Something to show God, something to show my husband. If I've used my day well, the rays are a warm comfort. On wasted days, it is more of a reprimand: see how much of the day is gone? And what have you done? The sun is a faithful teacher: teaching, reproving, correcting, training.

Now, that moment has passed and the sky is a milky yellow-white, with the last of its glory dropping behind scratchy grey trees. Vegetarian chili is bubbling semi-rhythmically and my husband will be sending me his "I'm coming soon!" message shortly. There are dishes to be put away and rooms to be straightened before he and our guests arrive. This day will soon be done.

The sun serves as a marker in our days. 
  1. When the sun streaks the sky at sunrise, we have a fresh new opportunity. 
  2. When it burns in its fiery late afternoon glory we have a reminder.  
  3. When we see it dim and hide, we are challenged to evaluate our work. 
And tomorrow, we begin again.
From the morning,
to the afternoon,
to the evening.
The sun offers gracious, thrice-daily check points, if you will, that steer us into wise living. 

Well-invested weeks, months or years are always the product of without well-invested days. We say we want to live our lives for Him, but what about our days? The Son says, "I'm coming soon!" and I want to present to Him a life lived daily in light of His glory. 

February 08, 2015

love, truth and immigrants

He was the slowest one in the hall. The last one to hand in his exam booklet, and that only when the lanky proctor stood directly in front of him, good-naturedly tapping his toe and urging him to finish. Before the oral portion of our exam, he was assigned to my small group. He sat next to me nervously, his greasy hair going every whichway, his black motorcycle jacket hanging loose. In heavily-accented words, he said he is twenty-nine.

Throughout the oral exam, he struggled to get simple phrases out, his mind jerking and lurching to produce the words. At the end, he asked in basic sentences about when the results would come. "Visa...job...in the city...not much time left". The passing of the exam was probably a condition for his visa. My heart hurt for him as I stepped into the snow-swirls outside.

He is from Serbia. I came home and told my husband: "He's twenty-nine. Like me. How old would he have been when his country blew to pieces?" I knew my husband's memory of the documentary we watched about Yugoslavia would be better than mine. "Maybe ten." Ten. I was fort-building and tree-climbing. My husband was walking dogs or chasing squirrels. Our Serbian counterpart was learning firsthand what ethnic cleansing looked like. Even now, the tousle of his hair, the langsam way he answered the questions, too-old-for-his-years appearance showed me that we came from different worlds.

"I would like to have more children, but we are not settled yet. My relative, he had over fifty children....from three wives, that is." It's a leisurely Saturday afternoon and the man makes a few low jokes about taking a second wife himself. His (first) wife giggles along with him, as if his jokes are actually humorous. We're on our second round of small cups of tea; we show them a few wedding photos and exchange notes about language lessons and job opportunities. Their children are at the table, pasting and constructing a snowy scene to match the white apartment-scape outside their kitchen window. The son constructs human figures to add to the scenetheir family with an extra child in it, "He wants a sibling," his mother explains. Like father, like son.

I understand why a refugee family from Syria might be slow to have another child. Maybe they still wake at night hearing the sound of explosions or wondering when they'll need to run again. When I hear "refugee" and "Syria", I imagine a camel-hair tent or over-crowded dwellings with peeling paint. But their apartment is bright and pleasant. He's a doctor who speaks four languages. He has already found an entry-level job in his sector here, though he arrived less than two years ago. He a refugee, but he's also a high-achiever.

Who is she, the lady shielded by a thin head scarf? She converted and left her homeland to marry him. She's mild, but by her quick smile, her home, and her children, I know she must be an intelligent woman. It's obvious that she's glad we've visited. We know too, what it's like to be far from home. 

She dismisses herself for a scheduled prayer time. Later he does the same, except he prays rather demonstratively on a maroon rug a few metres from us. The kids don't pray, and us non-Syrians, we down more sweet tea.

Immigrants: Western Europe has them washing up on their seashores, coming by foot from father east, and piling up in refugee centres. All around me I see them, the non-locals. They've come here like it's the Promised Land. East moves West, bringing much of the East with it.

There's a thick South Asian woman on the light rail, with a few thin stalks of bhindi protruding from the top of her shopping bag. I can already imagine what she's making for supper. I hand four euros to the perhaps Central Asian man behind the shop counter. I buy popcorn and bulgar from him, but really I just wanted an excuse to visit the oddly messy and foreign-looking shop next door to the Casablanca barber full of Arabs where my husband gets his hair trimmed. I feel that these people are the foreigners, but when the woman at the photo store asks me a question I can't understand, let alone answer, I'm aware that I'm a foreigner here. I'm what the Good Book calls a "stranger".

During my wanderings through Exodus, I kept noticing the mentions of laws about treatment of the stranger or the foreigner. I wondered what Israel's immigration policy's were, and ended up doing a search of the word "stranger" in both Testaments, to see what I could learn.

One thing that stood out to me is that strangers are often lumped in with widows and orphans, and we all know how God feels about widows and orphans. God says that He Himself watches over the stranger and gives them food and clothing. He cares for the displaced. The Israelites were to emulate God by showing compassion to those who were far from home in their midst: extras of produce were to be left out for them, and part of their tithe would be used to help strangers, orphans and widows.

God always reminded Israel: "Remember, you were strangers in Egypt. So, have compassion on strangers in your midst. You will treat strangers much better in your country than the Egyptians treated you!"
  • Sabbaths and holidays were to be a rest day, for immigrants, too.
  • The cities of refuge were to offer safety to falsely accused immigrants, not only to Hebrews
  • They were allowed to participate in festivals and celebrations (though they might have to meet certain requirements, like circumcision, to participate)
  • When the Law of God was read, they were to be gathered alongside the Israelites to hear it
The West is facing a crisis in their handling of immigrants from the East. Why? Mohler states that "secular elites [have an] inability to fathom religious war". The secular Western state cannot say that last month's murders in Paris are wrong because they claim not to believe there is any universal right or wrong. They just know that it hurts really bad when French freedom of speech is disregarded by immigrants. But it would be difficult, given their purportedly secular framework, to explain why such events upset them so, or what could be done differently.

However, God had no such confusion when he built Israel's immigration policy. Immigrants were expected to live according to truth, as expressed by God's laws. If they brought along their other customs, such as infanticide (sacrificing sons to gods like Molech) or eating blood, capital punishment would be the result. We find in God's set-up the principle that love is always balanced with truth, or it is not love. 

To allow an immigrant to escape war, religious persecution or famine in his country by opening the doors of yours is love

To allow him to enter and practice other forms of evil in your land is not love.

The West is the West because for a significant period of time, evil was called evil, and good was called good. But "woe to those who call good evil, and evil good." There can't be a workable immigration policy—indeed there cannot be clear thinking and categorieswhere there are no moral absolutes.

It's getting late and we have two immigrants at our table. (OK, maybe we have four, if you count my husband and me.) We eat vegetarian pizza and talk about anything from needy long distance girlfriends in India to ore mining in Sweden. They are welcome here, and we want them to know that they are loved, by God and by us.

Then, after the brownies are eaten and the conversation pauses, my husband does like Israel did. He reads from that Book that we always keep nearby, to strangers and non-strangers alike. He reads words that to us are familiar, but to them are entirely new. We want them to hear truth, because love needs truth to steer it.  

Yes, we were strangers too, 
"Gentiles in the flesh...
At that time [we] were without Chr!st
being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel 
and strangers from the covenants of promise, 
having no hope and without God in the world. 

But now in [Him] you who once were far off 

have been brought near by the blood... 
He came and preached peace to you
who were afar off and to those who were near.
Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners,
but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God..."
Our immigration and new citizenship would never have been accomplished without that perfect balance of love and truth. Neither will theirs.

February 04, 2015

elisabeth elliot wallpaper

If you've read my blog for a while, you know I'm a huge Elisabeth Elliot fangirl. She has been to me one of the "reverent older women" of Titus 2, teaching, encouraging and rebuking me since I was a teen. This is one of my favourite quotations from Passion and Purity.
When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love Him. If I can say yes to that question, can't I say yes to pleasing Him? ...A little quiet reflection will remind me that yes to God always leads in the end to joy. We can absolutely bank on that."
What a difficult but rewarding truth to live! And how good to have Someone we can "absolutely bank on" at all times!

Click to see this image full size / to download as a wallpaper.

January 24, 2015

a faith-based wedding

This week was the two-month anniversary of our wedding (and, dare I admit, the one-year anniversary of our first in-person meeting!). As I write, our striped bedspread is piled with 4x6 prints of nuptial bliss; wedding garlands and pine cones still adorn our flat. There are some thank you's left to write, but the list is growing shorter. Mentally, I need to wrap up wedding projects and move my concentration to building a godly marriage. But at the risk of filling this space with too much wedding-related gibberish (male readers, be duly warned), I want to share how I believe that people of Faith should have Faith-filled weddings. We live "by faith from first to last". I want to record some of the faith-based decisions we made for our wedding, however counter-cultural, before I forget what I learned.

Weddings have boomed into a huge industry in the West. During the last few years, my day job was directly related to that industry and was constantly reminded of what a production our weddings have become. The perfect satin chair covers. The handmade origami wall decorations. The professional make-up artists. The $200 groomsmen gifts (and the ten-groomsmen-strong wedding parties). The fashion-inspired photography shoots, with pre-wedding and day-after sessions included. The Facebook groups full of brides selling bird cages, candelabrasand yes, the dress tooonly days after the big event. None of this is wrong, per se, but weddings have become extravagant, costly...and overwhelming. Why?

In Asia, weddings are multi-day, over-the-top affairs, but North American weddings were traditionally more straightforward, perhaps due to our history of pioneering and homesteading, valuing good old-fashioned hard work and what we now call DIY. Our forefathers had left their extended family or their homes to strike out somewhere new. Unlike Asians, who may have inhabited the same land or even home for hundreds of years, North Americans were more accustomed to "pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps" and paying their own way.  

North America's founders also had, overall, a generally B!blically-based concept of a wedding is, and built their events that way. They knew that no matter how big or small a fuss was made, at its core, a wedding was solemn occasion, established and ordained by God. But as the West has less understanding of true marriage before God, and more emphasis on self and defining our own truth, weddings are less built on Faith. Weddings then become self-centred ("It's my day!"), imprudent ("Let's take out a line of credit..."), and proud ("Look how beautiful we are!") affairs.

As people of Faith, our weddings should be distinctive. We need to look away from the world's form of marriage (after all, it's being constantly redefined anyway) and return to purposeful weddings as seen through the lens of simple, pure Faith in that One who says that "without Faith it is impossible to please Him." No matter our style, our past, our status, our traditions, weddings of believers should have this in common: our weddings should be full of Him.

Our dating, engagement and marriage are by no means normative or perfect. We were engaged on July second (in America) and married on November twenty-second (in Canada). Between those two dates, I finished my job in Asia, dropped by Europe briefly to see where I'd be moving, then hopped back to Canada for the last pre-wedding month. Despite these unique circumstances, I think I can share some perspective on redeeming the wedding season as a person of faith.

It was helpful for me, in the midst of so many voices and opinions and decisions, to establish  priorities and order our plans accordingly...just like in the rest of life. A friend once commented that you learn a lot about someone from their wedding. I think that is generally true. Our weddings display our (or our families') values, and here were ours:

We wanted a short engagement. People will tell you that you need at least a year to plan a wedding, or over six months to order a dress. Don't believe them. We had God's peace that we were better together, we had our family's approval, and we saw no reason to delay marriage. Some complained that we planned a November wedding in a Northern city; others assumed that I always dreamed of being married in the winter. One friend said I was "brave" to marry in the snowy season. But the fact was, we just wanted to be married. Winter or no winter. We confirmed that date with immediate family, a few friends, our speaker, our photographer, and our venue...and went with it. God blessed us with mild temperatures and a gentle, fresh snowfall on our wedding day. A week later, the -30°C temperatures reminded us that God had smiled on our date, chosen months before in faith.

We wanted the greatest focus to be on the good news. Our marriage and our lives would be nothing without it. To this end we picked our speaker deliberately (and planned our wedding around when he could come), made special requests regarding what he'd speak about, and handed out booklets our speaker had written, to our guests.
Our wedding purpose statement,
printed in the wedding program

We wanted to emphasize what marriage is, not what it is not. I feel there is a lot of confusion about what a wedding is: a showy party? a stupid decision? an outdated tradition? all about me? We printed a purpose statement in the front of our wedding programs, which literally explained why marriage, and why a wedding. Although in our culture, ceremonies have become quick affairs, and the emphasis is on the reception or party to follow, to me it was important that the ceremony be the big deal. I wanted the ceremony to feel like the real event (that's where the covenant happens!), and the lunch the add-on. (I think I got that idea from this book, which I found a somewhat helpful).

We wanted to be serious about what was taking place. I see a lot of playful wedding invitations or programs, and I tried, at first, to make a playful one, too. We did make a funny engagement announcement, that told the story of our relationship in an entertaining way. But in the end, for the ceremony invitation itself, I veered back to both serious wording and design, because of the nature of the event. We invited our guests "to be our witnesses as we join in the covenant of marriage before God." Covenants are serious. I am not usually a "classic" person, but I felt that our wedding almost needed to be so: we didn't invent marriage; this covenant is nearly as old as time. In the end, we used a pre-made wedding liturgy with traditional vows, and printed it word-for-word in the program, which also lent to the traditional feel.

We wanted it to be distinctly Chr!stian. Maybe that seems obvious. But for us, it was an opportunity to tell everyone where we stood as individuals and as a couple. One thing I've realized is quite distinctively Chr!stian is joyful, corporate singing, so we included two participatory songs in the ceremony.  Especially for our Asian friends who attended or watched online (via live stream), the clear, practical counsel offered to us from the pulpit would be very different than the unintelligible mantras chanted at their traditional weddings. We wanted the ceremony to be faith-filled and were careful about the instrumental songs we chose, the wording of the bulletin, and more.

We wanted prayer to be foundational to our wedding (and marriage), so we spent time together and separately, praying much for the big day, for our guests, and for our marriage. At our rehearsal dinner, we ended with a time of prayer. We gave out one prayer request each to about twenty different people, and each one prayed a one or two sentence prayer about the wedding day or our marriage. On the morning of the wedding we prayed together in the sanctuary before getting ready.

We wanted our wedding to be an expression of hospitality and community. We wanted to include as many people as reasonably possible. Too often I hear of people who plan their dream wedding, and then try to fit people into it. Or who say it is too expensive to invite a few more people, but, if the meal were less extravagant, could accommodate more guests. We planned our reception around the people we hoped to include, not the people around our dream reception. In particular we wanted to invite people who don't know the Love we know, and have them see and experience real Love. One such friend wrote to us and said he felt "immediately welcomed" at our wedding; this is what we were going for.

We wanted to honour our families, especially our parents, and make our wedding something they'd remember with joy. We tried to do this in small and big ways, like consulting them on decisions, including all our immediate family's names in the wedding program, creating a family tree for our guests to see, and emphasizing that our families (not just us as individuals) were being joined at our wedding.

We wanted our wedding to be meaningful, even in the details. I searched for hours for wedding jewelery, and felt rather exhausted by the search. In the end, I decided I would wear simple pearl earrings that had been a gift from a precious friend in Asia. To me, the pearls were a reminder of the "pearl of great price". Whatever following J'esus costs me, or her, or whatever sharing this Faith costs methat pearl is worth selling everything to have. I like having this truth embedded in my wedding day pictures in a way that is meaningful to me.

Our wedding was also meaningful in that so many people celebrated with us and helped us in practical ways. Having friends' and family's help with anything from decorating and food preparation to knitting and driving was not only a money-saver, but it made our wedding more meaningful. Showers and parties were other extensions of grace and especially meaningful in that I was moving away (both from Asia and Canada), after our wedding, and time with those friends was limited. 

We wanted our wedding to be memorable for us and our guests...even if that meant a bit more money spent. While we don't need over-the-top weddings, weddings are very special and unique occasions. I would never go into debt for wedding expenses, or spend all our savings just for our wedding, but since we were blessed with a little margin and many friends who offered help, we sprung for a few "unnecessary extras" because there's nothing wrong with making your wedding a day to remember! We serve an artistic, creative God who created a world with an infinite spectrum of colours, textures, words, sounds and patterns...for our enjoyment and His glory. I think He smiles, when He sees creativity and appreciation of beauty used in faith, to celebrate something so marvelous as a faith-based wedding.

There is no realm of our lives that is outside of the influence of our faith walk, and when we celebrate our marriage to another like-minded person, that too should be an expression of faith.
Do we believe that every aspect of our lives is to bring Him glory?
Do we believe that God wants purity and encourages marriage?
Do we believe God has brought us together for His glory?
Do we believe that He will work out all the details?
If so, how do our weddings reflect our beliefs?

It's not so hard to determine what a successful wedding looks like: if your wedding honours Him and honours others, you've hit the target.

We're still enjoying telling people how newly wed we are, and maybe we'll forever count how many days we've been married (after all, isn't that what smart phones are for?) and celebrate little milestones. But as we write those last thank you notes and watch winter soon melt into Europe's early spring...on to marriage, our current walk of faith. 

January 08, 2015

so dark, so shine

It's so dark. Have you felt it, closing in around your Light? All the fallen flights, heightened security, dropping oil prices and eurozone deflation? The noose tightening around freedom of expression? The shrinking of our world and clashing of our ideologies? Last night my husband and I were peacefully rolling vegetarian sushi, but in Paris there were mourners, blood splatters and a manhuntcartoonists and magazine editors left dead to shouts of "Allā*u Akbar". The murderers are still on the loose. Paris is not so far from us. Darkness is not so far from us. 

All is not well in our world. As children of the Light, the darkness that surrounds us can appear overwhelming. Some days this little Light of mine seems ineffective in a world with gargantuan problems. We don't know where to start.

That's when I thank God that there's something good about the night: darkness makes Light more obvious. It reminds me that little people can make a big difference, when they serve a big God. Darkness makes Light stand out. Even this little Light of mine.

When I left Asia, an employee gave me a carved wooden box. Inside, her note read: "...you are the only person who has ever understood me, and allowed me to be myself. I will never forget you...." I don't tell this story to praise myself. One would think I must have done something monumental for her, but I hadn't, really. I listened to her boy problems. I ate lunch with her. I worked alongside her. I corrected her. I brought her a snack sometimes, but not as often as she brought a snack for me. I did her a favour once a in a while, but not as often as she did a favour for me. In summary, I did nothing particularly incredible or significant for her. And somehow those interactions were incredible and significant to her anyway. This is the grace of God.

The news depicts horror scenes, and as real as they are, most of us live ordinary lives. We don't grapple with large disasters daily. We're rolling sushi, doing laundry or commuting to work while others are wiping up blood in Paris.

When I was in Asia, a potentially dangerous election occurred, and I received an email in my inbox from North America, giving dire warnings the "radical" leader of our Asian nation. Reading that email outside of Asia, I would have felt concern. But there I was, waking up in the state where the "dangerous" new leader came from, and everything seemed the same: my daal was still oily, the neighbour's daughters still met me in the lift, and the auto drivers were still honking. Yes, it was right to be concerned about the new leader, but for me, the more important task of the day was to smile and thank the cook. To ask the neighbour girls about their day. To pray for and be patient with the driver while he drinks his chai before transporting me. Because I'd probably never meet the president, but in my home, in my neighbourhood, and on my street were people dying for lack of Light.

It often surprises me how little things that to me seem normal to me are unexpected to people in the dark. Little things like
remembering someone's name,
helping clean up after a meal,
making that needed grocery stop,
taking chocolate to a sick friend,
asking to pray with someone,
being genuinely interested in your friend's friend,
cooking for your coworkers,
inviting someone lonely to your home.

Little things that shine big Light.

Maybe you can't go to Paris and weep with those who weep. You won't likely solve global racial tensions. You probably won't smuggle the Good Book into a hot spot, or write a motivational bestseller. Maybe no one but your mother will ever "like" your Facebook posts, or you'll never be good-looking enough to garner some role in the public eye. You might not have the cutest kids or the most stylish home. But, as you live your life, as a
good employee,
good boss,
good student,
good sister,
good wife,
good husband,
good friend...
as someone "given to good works",
your Light will shine.  
His Light will shine.

"Sometimes truth is like a flash of lightening on a dark night. For just a second, a split second really, everything becomes visible. And then, just as quickly, the flash disappears and the darkness returns. Still, one doesn't forget what one has seen when the lightening flashes." (Source: Kate McCord) We can thank God, even for the darkness. "Let your light so shine."

December 22, 2014

an uncomfortable Christmas

From my kitchen table, I can see rooftops and treetops in my new city. It's overcast (what else is new?) and looks like a European winter out there—lots of grey, no white. After a few not-so-enjoyable run-ins with brusque grocery store staff communicating with me in a language I barely understand, I'm postponing this afternoon's food-buying trip as long as I'm able. If you've ever changed continents, or changed them as often as I have this year, maybe you understand why I need to work up a little courage to do so simple a task as grocery shopping. So the bread dough is rising for the second time, the dishes are washed, the shopping list is made...and really all that's left is for me to put on my boots, take my re-useable shopping bags down seven short flights of stairs and brave Europe.

This morning is cool, but I woke up with my warm husband at my sidemy human anchor in all this transition. Today is our one-month anniversary of marriage, and he lingers around the flat longer than usual, not wanting to go to the office. I encourage him in his delay tactics, but endlich, I shoo him out the door...so that, as I tell him, he can come home earlier!

I am overwhelmed by the miracle that God accomplished when He set us two lonelies in a family. He searched the ends of the earth to bring two so like-minded people together in a country that is neither mine nor his. Yesterday a generous family adopted us for the day. We had meals, fellowship, a walk and nap. Kindly, they put our two-person North American family into a bigger European family for the day. "Was it strange," I asked, "being with a family who has hosted you so many times, but this time with me?" No, he said it felt completely normal. That is how our marriage has felt, completely normal. God truly brought me my other half in my husband.

Which is why, when I sprouted the idea of inviting a passel of Asians over for a Christmas gathering, Husband was game.

One of the privileges and challenges of marriage is "leaving". For us, the "leaving" was rather forced, by kilometers (or miles), time zones and continents. We both leave homes that taught us truth, and now we have the responsibility of founding a temporal home that echoes with eternity, a home in which God dwells. A holy home, if I dare use that old-fashioned word. I've been pondering what a home looks like if God "tabernacles" there, when the Word "dwells richly" in us an then "becomes flesh" in our space, in our conversations, in our actions, in our choices. Late at night I whisper those thoughts about "tabernacling" to my husband and we pray for our Asian party.

The Father made our paths cross with a local yet excellent-English-speaking student with a similar heart. She, my husband and I all wanted to have a party in our home for international friends who are far from home this season. My husband and I had the home and the desire, but few international student friends. She had the friends and the desire, but no home she could share. Together, we can accomplish something we couldn't separately. Today she came here to lift them up with me and gave me a list of names of friends, mostly from Asia, whom she plans to bring to our home tomorrow night. She's elated to have a home to gather them in. We're elated that she has these friends from Asia. Yet another God-ordained joining, Europe and North America merging to bless Asia.

I asked her about her parents, whom she lives with, and they believe like we do. "But I can't bring in so many outsiders. They like their Christmas traditions. I could bring in one foreigner, that would be OK. But not ten."

I know what she means.
We all want Christmas to be comfortable. 

But aren't the beginnings of our Christmas traditions all 
neighbours' gossip and disbelief,
birthing pangs and bloody delivery, 
splinters and rough wood,
socially-awkward agricultural workers and then,
Asian visitors who show up late and travel-weary....
perhaps needing a translator? 

This doesn't sound like a Martha Stewart Christmas with Ten Must-Have Napkin Rings or Terrific Turkey for Twelve. The first Christmas was not exactly comfortable. But friend, this is Christmas. Remember?

We get so intent on celebrating Christmas in a comfortable way, 
the way we've always done it, 
that we forget whom we say we are celebrating:
the uncomfortable coming of the uncomfortable Christ.

The One who asked the massage parlour worker (the "Is-she-a-prostitute?" one) from the brothel to the potluck. The One who took in that guy with the oozing wound that might be contagious or the girl who talks non-stop about topics of no interest to you. The One who stretches us where we didn't want to be stretched and says things that challenge us to the depths of who we are. The One who didn't just tell us to spend time with people who aren't part of our club, He modeled it. He didn't come to be served but to serve. Christmas was a stoop, an uncomfortable stoop, for God "veiled in flesh".

I recently read a comment from the main character in Stepping Heavenward. She confides to her journal: "One must either stop reading the B!ble altogether, or else leave off spending one's whole time in just doing easy pleasant things one likes to do."As Matt Papa bluntly puts it, "If you want a comfy life, stay away from J'esus." Yes, Christmas is more about being uncomfortable than comfortable, because that is what Christ is about.

God sets the lonely in families. He goes to great lengths to bring people home, and others-centered, unselfish hospitality for those who need a place is a classic trademark of His people. A holy home puts flesh on a holy God whom we cannot see. A holy home doesn't let its own comfort determine how hospitable it will be. When God "tabernacled" amongst His people, it was sweaty, dirty, earthy workdoes our Christmas look like the Christ we intend to celebrate?

October 20, 2014

here and there

They were worried I wouldn't like it here.

Maybe it was the crawling vines clinging to the stone houses, or the red berries that grow in storybook-like clusters along the roadside, that they thought I wouldn't like. Or the fallen orange leaves that brighten the slippery grey cobbled streets. Or the bread pretzels topped in chunky white salt and the hazelnut chocolate spread that are never far away. Or the plentiful, varied, fresh and clean produce. Or the warm-compared-to-Canada winters. Or all the quiet and privacy and shiny machines that do every task imaginable. 

Maybe these were the things that came to their minds, when they were worried I wouldn't like it here.

They ask what I've seen so far and where I've travelled since arriving. I tell them I've seen my fiancé, and this city. They ask if I like it here, and I say "Yes, because my fiancé is here." My fiancé tells me that his is a dirty city, by European terms, and that others turn up their noses when people talk about this region of the country. And yes, I see the bridges scarred with graffiti, the industrial smoke stacks or the homeless men by the bus stop with urine-soaked trousers. But it's nothing I haven't seen before, or nothing that would stop me from living here. And somehow it doesn't cancel out the beauty of being here.

I have always been happy with simple pleasures. Here I've been happy to take walks under sunny fall skies, to buy discounted nail polish and shoes at the flea market, to make homemade lasagna and serve it on a colorful new tablecloth, to pick a bloom from along the roadside and grace a jar with it for days, to weave words together on the printed page, to notice how the trees stand majestically in rows by the river, and to watch the hillside flame with fall. To breathe in the quiet and rest, before I return to North America for a busy month of wedding planning.

And though I enjoy simple pleasures, more importantly, I remember that life is so much more than what we like, or even what we can see. What is seen is temporary, what is unseen is eternal. When my fiancé and I speak of expectations for where we'll live after we are married, answering questions from premarital books, we both realize that we have never chosen our geographical location only for our pleasure, and we never will. We will never live by the ocean simply because we like beach walks, or nest in the mountains just because we like alpine air. We'll see which temporary circumstances make the most sense based on our understanding of our eternal circumstances. And we'll hammer in our tent pegs into this temporary soil accordingly. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

I'm staying in a spotless, spacious flat owned by friends of my fiancé's. They welcomed me to a pristine spare bedroom with a flat-screen TV and bubbly water. I am to help myself to their lovely kitchen's contents. Even now, I just finished a tasty European breakfast and I'm looking out onto their spacious balcony that overlooks the hilly city in which they live. They have made me more than comfortable for the remainder of my visit.

Somehow, they were worried I wouldn't like it here. And merely in a physical sense, it is quite likeable here. But as I move to my fourth continent, I know that life is about so much more than me, or about here. 
It's about HimGod.
And now, himmy almost-husband.
And thereHis unseen home and kingdom.

It's fun to be in love in Europe in autumn, eating street falafels and taking long walks. Last night foreign-sounding music was blasting below the bridge and we watched a boat crease through the river, folding the sunset's reflection in the water in its wake. As afternoon became evening we were going through more premarital counselling questions, this time about finances, and were reminded that we aren't owners, we are stewards. He is over all, and through all, and in all. In Him we live and move and have our being. All this is for Him—all this moving and settling, marrying and giving in marriage, Europe-living or Asia-living. All this is His.

For now we are stewards of bread pretzels and European efficiency—a memorable place to begin our marriage, in our cozy IKEA-furnished flat looking out at a quiet red-roofed neighbourhood. It might sound exciting to others, that my fiancé is whisking me off from dusty Asia to one of the world's top move-to countries. But we won't cling too tightly, as we may anytime be asked to exchange this for rolling corn fields and down home Americana, or another honking, writhing Asian metropolis.

Any day, this all will end and we will see, face-to-face, the spiritual kingdom on the other side of this life. I wonder, based on our stewardship here, what our assignments will be in His kingdom. How did we use our engagement season to edify others? How will we employ our wedding ceremony for His purposes? Will He be lifted up in our marriage, in our Europe months or years? We are training for reigning, by our stewardship of what we have here.

If we're going to "worry" about anything,
let's worry about that.

 But if we have food and clothing,
we will be content
with that.
— Paul

"Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,  for everything in heaven and earth is yours.  Yours, Lord, is the kingdom; you are exalted as head over all.  Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things. In your hands are strength and power to exalt and give strength to all.  Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.... Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.  We are foreigners and strangers in your sight, as were all our ancestors. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope.  Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. Lord, the God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep these desires and thoughts in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you... — King David

October 08, 2014

dear single friend

Dear single friend,

In July, I did something unprecedented. Unexpected. And if you ask my siblings, un-Julie-like. I told a man I'd marry him.

We sat on a park bench next to old Civil War cannons in the dapple of mid-morning sunlight. He did something ordinary for him—read to me from the Good Book. But this time, when he finished reading, he pulled out a red letter which he'd concealed between that Book's pages, and asked me to take off my sunglasses so he could see my eyes. I knew what must be coming. He read me words of godly commitment—and with his trademark genuineness, asked, "....will you marry me?"
Of course, I said "Yes!" And we cried a little, and smiled a lot, at this decision that seemed so obvious and so right, both to us and to our families...a decision that has seemed more "right" the longer we've watched it play out.

Dear single friend, we've dreamed about that moment for years, right? And often wondered if it would ever happen. Maybe that's why I cried, when he proposed, and also as I started to write this post.

Because singleness left an ache,
that ache that Genesis termed "not good",
that ache that we almost feel unspiritual admitting to
("Isn't God enough?")
that ache that ebbed and flowed through the years,
sometimes worse, sometimes better.

I don't quite know when I started identifying as a "single". Maybe it was in high school, when there were nearly no boys to date but my teen girl magazines assumed there were. Maybe it was when the boys who pursued me were socially awkward, or lacking common sense or insight when it came to conversational topics. I had only one semi-brush with romance in my first 27 years, and afterward my friend told me that I didn't talk about guys as much anymore. Because I was realizing that finding romance seems more akin to winning the lottery than to going shopping: you can't decide for yourself when it will happen. You can't go out and buy genuine, reciprocated affection and commitment. For the most part, you have to wait for it to happen.

(I think that the waiting, the not knowing if it will ever happen, is one of the single person's most precious "materials for sacrifice"—demanding nothing from God, being patient to go from day to day with no promise of marriage by a certain age. If someone had told me I'd be married just before my 29th birthday, I would have been OK with that. But the hard part was contentment in not knowing if I'd marry at all. You know what I mean.)

To make matters worse, as single girls, most of us have been told, by a well-intentioned married friend: "It seemed like just when I surrendered my singleness to God, that's when [insert Husband Charming's name here] came along." Which always left us feeling that if we were only more spiritual and surrendered and satisfied, somehow a man would materialize before our eyes. As if marriage were a prize handed out to the godly.

I won't burden you with any such story. I'm just amazed at how hard it was to meet someone until it was my someone, and then how easily it all came, once God knew it would be a good thing for me.

Engagement thrust me into a world of veils and vows, reproduction and registries. I don't know about this stuff. Remember, I've been single, for nearly 29 years. I had never owned a diamond until my fiancé gave me one. I still can't spell "boutonniere" to save my life; I have to Google it every time. I hardly know any "human love" songs to play at our wedding, because I had to abstain from listening to them so as not to foster discontent when I was single. (It's OK, I know lots of "God's love" songs, and His love is better, anyway, for the single and the married). I feel awkward in front of my peer single friends when a big fuss is made over me because I'm getting married—you should be fussed over just as much as me, you're just as valuable to society. And no, I haven't finalized my dress yet, and the wedding is just over one month away.

Married ladies are saying "Welcome to our side! Here, reuse my veil!" and giving me free birth control advice. Well-intentioned married people are telling me how tough marriage can be. And I'm transitioning, because I still identify with my fellow non-wives, many of whom have shared my journey. My non-wife years have been rich. In my mind, I'm slowly shifting into thinking as someone who comes in a pair, someone who is almost a wife. (Thankfully, it's coming quite naturally).

It's quiet on the phone and then he asks me—
"Are you excited about moving and living here?"

(Did I mention, that by marrying him, I'll be moving to another new-to-me continent, again? He's a bit nervous that I won't like his host country.)

I ask for clarification,
"Do you mean, am I excited to marry you, or excited to live where you live?"

"I know the answer to the first question, Julie. But what are you most and least excited about moving and living here?"

I tell him that I'm excited to make a home for him—to transform his bachelor flat into a joyful and colourful place for him to come home to. To have our conversations over supper, not over Skype. But I admit that I'm concerned I might be a bit lonely, some days, due to the double-edged sword of learning what it's like to make friends as a married woman, and making friends in a language I hardly speak. Some days I'll probably miss the freedom of friendship-building from my single years—our impromptu outings, our late-night talks on the doorsteps of the chruch or on bunks at camp, or our trips from anywhere from Anchorage to Prague. While I'm happier than happy to marry this godly man, it's just reality, that some days I might miss some aspects of being a

dear single friend.

We always expect that life will change in great jolts. Certainly, sometimes it does: the sudden death of a loved one or a shocking situation changes life as we know it, forever. But for the most part, life is just lots of everyday living. Decisions that we make (or don't make) over dirty dishes or laundry or in other mundane circumstances shape our lives.

And maybe I thought that becoming engaged would be one of those jolts, but for the most part, it just felt like another day. Another day, on which I finalized a decision that will affect every day to come (though really it was a decision we had been easing toward since we first started talking, almost one year before.)

After agreeing to marry him, I thought to myself, "I don't know what 'until death do us part' looks like." I don't know what engagement, newlywed life, or parenting looks like. I don't know how to tell a man that I will love him for the rest of my life. Through holidays and hepatitis (God forbid), romance and renovations.  

But promises aren't kept in one-year, or five-year, or fifty-year chunks. Rather, they are kept in faithful seconds, thoughtful minutes, committed hours. I can seek to love him this hour, and then the next hour, and on and on after that. And if I do, someday I'll find that I've loved him in accord with that promise.

At the time of my engagement I was reading about Abraham, and that's probably an appropriate narrative for me, because he sure looks like he didn't know what he was doing. (Also, he moved all over creation. Apparently I do, too.)

God had to patiently work for many years with Abraham. There were a lot of years between "Get out of your country..." (Gen 12) and "Do not lay your hand on the lad..." (Gen 22). Sometimes with our "great patriarch" glasses, we forget that Abraham did stupid things too, like making a baby with Hagar, or deceiving people about his wife's true identity. His son, grandson, and great-grandsons had their share of faux pas as well. Actually, as I read their stories again recently, I saw with fresh eyes what a mess they were. They were no five-star family with a godly portfolio; they were much the opposite.

And friend, that's because the story recorded in the Good Book wasn't ever really about Abraham, Isaac or Jacob anyway. The story is about God. I started worshipping God in a new way, this time, after reading the miserable patriarchs' stories. I started worshiping Him for being different. Because the rest of us fail, and often we fail miserably. But He never failed. J'esus is better. He is the perfect prophet, perfect priest, perfect king. The perfect patriarch, if you will.

As I studied God's appearances to Abraham (sometimes spaced apart by many years) it struck me that for every command He gave Abraham, He made more demands on Himself than He did on Abraham. If He could work in Abraham's story, He can work in mine, too. My life story is about showcasing His greatness, not my own prowess at being single or married. It is God who is at work in you, to will and to do according to His good purpose.

Before Isaac was even born, God was speaking in what sounds like past tense: "I have made you a father of many nations...." Because when God makes a promise for the future, it is as good as done. It comforts me to know that when God sees our lives, He sees them already completed. He must not know whether to laugh at us or cry, when we insist on worrying or fussing about something that, in His eyes, is complete. He doesn't see us as singles or marrieds, He sees us as pilgrims and sojourners on this earth, where titles that refer to marital status often divide instead of uniting us.

Dear single friend, for every stage of our journey, we need and we have a covenant-making and covenant-keeping God. Before a man ever promised me, "I will...", my God had promised first. His promise is the most reliable. I rested in that promise as a single, and must continue to rest in it once I marry.

While my life is changing, and my loyalties, my time and my love are becoming more and more my husband-to-be's, I do still love and appreciate you,

dear single friend.

Thank you for journeying with me.